Addiction Help FAQ

Most frequent questions and answers

"Your Actions Speak So Loudly, I Can't Hear What You Are Saying"

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you can’t stop taking a drug even if you want to, or if the urge to use drugs is too strong to control, even if you know the drug is causing harm, you might be addicted. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Do you think about drugs a lot?
Did you ever try to stop or cut down on your drug usage but couldn’t?
Have you ever thought you couldn’t fit in or have a good time without the use of drugs?
Do you ever use drugs because you are upset or angry at other people?
Have you ever used a drug without knowing what it was or what it would do to you?
Have you ever taken one drug to get over the effects of another?
Have you ever made mistakes at a job or at school because you were using drugs?
Does the thought of running out of drugs really scare you?
Have you ever stolen drugs or stolen to pay for drugs?
Have you ever been arrested or in the hospital because of your drug use?
Have you ever overdosed on drugs?
Has using drugs hurt your relationships with other people?
If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes, you might have an addiction. People from all backgrounds can get an addiction. Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young. See NIDA’s video, below:

Anyone Can Become Addicted to Drugs

Through scientific advances, we know more than ever about how drugs work in the brain. We also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs and lead productive lives. If you think you might be addicted, seek the advice of your doctor or an addiction specialist.

Repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that enable you to exert self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions. These brain changes explain why quitting is so difficult, even if you feel ready.

Asking for help is the first important step. Visiting your doctor for a possible referral to treatment is one way to do it. You can ask if he or she is comfortable discussing drug abuse screening and treatment. If not, ask for a referral to another doctor. You can also contact an addiction specialist. There are 3,500 board-certified physicians who specialize in addiction in the United States. The American Society of Addiction Medicine website has a Find a Physician featureon its home page. The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry also has a Patient Referral Program.

It takes a lot of courage to seek help for a drug problem because there is a lot of hard work ahead. However, treatment can work, and people recover from addiction every day. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s powerful, disruptive effects on brain and behavior and regain control of their lives.

If you or your medical specialist decides you can benefit from substance abuse treatment, you have many options. You can call this helpline and get some advice on how to proceed: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (This service is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). You can also look for a treatment center online at This online treatment finder will allow you to search geographically and will also give you information about the treatment center.

You can also search the following directories to find board-certified addiction specialists near you. We recommend that you search both directories.

The American Board of Addiction Medicine directory lists physicians who are board-certified in addiction medicine. Many of these physicians are primary care doctors.

The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology directory lists psychiatrists who are board-certified in addiction psychiatry. These physicians specialize in mental health.

Your health insurance may cover substance abuse treatment services. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act ensures that health plan features like co-pays, deductibles, and visit limits are generally not more restrictive for mental health and substance abuse disorder benefits than they are for medical and surgical benefits. The Affordable Care Act builds on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and requires coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services as one of ten essential health benefits categories. Under the essential health benefits rule, individual and small group health plans are required to comply with these parity regulations. You can read more information on the Affordable Care Act from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator provided by SAMHSA also provides payment information for each of the treatment services listed, including information on sliding fee scales and payment assistance. You can call treatment centers in advance and ask about payment options and what insurance plans they take. You can call the treatment helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TTY) to ask about treatment centers that offer low- or no-cost treatment.  You can also contact your state substance abuse agency.

A note on health insurance for veterans: If the person needing treatment is a veteran or is covered by health benefits for veterans, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can help you find VA services near you. Visit the VA Substance Use Disorder Program Locator to do your search.

Treatment approaches must be tailored to address each patient’s drug abuse pattern and also his or her drug-related medical, psychiatric, and social problems.  Some treatment centers offer outpatient treatment programs, which allows you to continue to perform some of your daily responsibilities. However, some people do better in inpatient (residential) treatment. An addiction specialist can advise you about your best options. NIDA has put 30 years of research into finding general principles of drug addiction that are most effective (NIDA’s Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment). NIDA has also developed a booklet that outlines 5 questions you can ask when looking for a treatment program.  You might want to have these materials on hand when you talk to treatment centers to help you find the best treatment program for your needs.

The first step in treatment is “detox,” which helps patients to remove all of the drugs from their system. This is important, because drugs impair the mental abilities you need to stay in treatment. When patients first stop abusing drugs, they can experience a variety of physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders; restlessness; and sleeplessness. Treatment centers are very experienced in helping you get through this process and keeping you safe. Depending on what drug you are addicted to, there may also be medications that will make you feel a little better during drug withdrawal, which makes it easier to stop using.

There are different kinds of addiction specialists who will be involved in your care, including doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, and others. In some treatment programs, different specialists work as a team to help you recover from your addiction.

Behavioral treatment (also known as “talk therapy”) helps patients engage in the treatment process, change their attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse, and increase healthy life skills. These treatments can also enhance the effectiveness of medications and help people stay in treatment longer. Treatment for drug abuse and addiction can be delivered in many different settings using a variety of behavioral approaches. You can read our DrugFacts about the different kinds of counseling and other behavioral treatments.

There are medications available to treat addictions to alcohol, nicotine, and opioids (heroin and pain relievers). Other medications are available to treat possible mental health conditions (such as depression) that may be contributing to your addiction. In addition, nonaddictive medication is sometimes prescribed to help with drug withdrawal. When medication is available, it  can be combined with behavioral therapy to ensure success for most patients. Your treatment provider will advise you on what medications are available for your particular situation. Some treatment centers follow the philosophy that they should not treat a drug addiction with other drugs, but research shows that medication can help in many cases. You can read more about what treatments are available to treat drug addiction.

This means you have already learned many of the skills needed to recover from addiction and should try it again.  Relapse should not discourage you. Relapse rates with addiction are similar to rates for other chronic diseases many people live with, such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse sometimes goes with the territory—it does not mean treatment failed. A return to drug abuse indicates that treatment needs to be started again or adjusted, or that you might benefit from a different approach.

You can tell your employer or friends you need to go on medical leave. If you talk to your doctor or another medical expert, privacy laws prevent him or her from sharing your medical information with anyone outside of the health care system without your permission.  In addition, most health care providers who specialize in addiction treatment can’t share your information with anyone (even other providers) without your written permission.   For more information on how your private medical information is protected by law, read the HHS information on Health Information Privacy (HIPAA) and the substance abuse confidentiality regulations (PDF, 388KB).

In certain cases—when health professionals believe you might be a danger to yourself or to others, the provider may be able to share relevant information with family members. Here is more information on when it is appropriate for the clinician to share protected information.

It is very possible you need to find treatment for both depression and addiction. This is very common. It’s called “comorbidity,” “co-occurrence,” or “dual diagnosis” when you have more than one health problem at the same time. It is important that you discuss all of your symptoms and behaviors with your doctor. There are many nonaddictive drugs that can help with depression or other mental health issues. Sometimes health care providers do not communicate with each other as well as they should, so you can be your own best advocate and make sure all of your health providers know about all of the health issues that concern you. People who have co-occurring issues should be treated for all of them at the same time. For more information see our DrugFacts on comorbidity.

Note: if you are so depressed that you have considered hurting yourself, there is a hotline that can help: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  1-800-273-TALK (8255).  Call immediately and there will be a helpful voice on the other end of the line.

To read some general information about being a part of NIH research studies, see NIH Clinical Trials and You.

To search for a clinical trial that might be right for you, check out

Self-help groups can extend the effects of professional treatment. The most well-known self-help groups are those affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA), all of which are based on the 12-step model. Most drug addiction treatment programs encourage patients to participate in a self-help group during and after formal treatment. These groups can be particularly helpful during recovery, as they are a source of ongoing communal support to stay drug free. Support groups for family members of people with addictions, like Al-anon or Alateen, can also be helpful.

There are other groups in the private sector that can provide a lot of support. To find other meetings in your area, contact local hospitals, treatment centers, or faith-based organizations.

The main NIDA site also has information on specific drugs, including their effects on the body, brain, and behavior.

NIDA also has an Easy-to-Read website with information about many drugs.

The most responsible thing you can do is stop driving while using drugs. This can be inconvenient, but it will show loved ones you are serious about getting better.  Specific drugs act differently on the brain, but all impair skills necessary for the safe operation of a vehicle. These include motor skills, balance and coordination, perception, attention, reaction time, and judgment. Even small amounts of some drugs can have measurable effects on driving ability. Drugs also impact your ability to tell if you are impaired, so you should not trust your own judgment on driving until you receive an evaluation and treatment. For more, see our DrugFacts on drugged driving.

More information on what to expect in treatment and recovery is in our publication on the science behind addiction, called Drugs, Brains, and Behavior – The Science of Addiction, written by NIDA scientists based on many years of research.

There is more information on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s resource page on treatment, prevention, and recovery.

You might also want to check out the websites of some other NIH Institutes:



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